This is part 2 of thinking around health and healing. It follows on from What is Healing?
It would be fair to say, that when someone says ‘healing’ with think of restoration to how things were, maybe even ‘back to normal’ and everything being ok. That is not always what happens, or apparently not, so can there still be healing? I would say there can be – a deeply profound type of healing…
To begin to see the possibility that there can be wholeness despite ill health needs us all to grasp that personhood is about more than just our physical shape or functioning. We are our whole self, whatever that package brings with it. It is that entirety that we need to be comfortable with to find wholeness whatever our limitations. Frank Wright , in his book, The Pastoral Nature of Healing speaks of
healing to be the essential ‘I’.
For each of us not to aim for some supposed ideal, but to realise the distinctive individuality that God gives to each of us (As stated in The Church and the Ministry of Healing A Methodist Statement adopted in 1977).
Simon Bailey, wrote a brilliant book called The Well Within, exploring his experience of living with HIV. The subtitle, Parables for Living and Dying say it all – read it if ever you come across a copy. In that book he speaks of acknowledging the sense of calling specific to me, to which I must be honest and loyal. To become the very most that I can be should be the only concern for each of us, whatever that “I” turns out to be. In the words of John F. X. Harriott,
everyone can create a masterpiece – themselves
Healing does not bring out our likeness to others, but it will bring out our likeness to ourself.
We will never achieve ultimate healing in this life, but perhaps wholeness is possible. If we can find a point at which we can accept and live with what continuing illness is going to mean for us, then we can begin to move towards the potential in that. This will not be a once and for all acceptance, but having internalised it, taking it with us into the rest of life. Denial and rationalisation are self-protective defence mechanisms for preserving emotional well-being, therefore should not be dismantled until there is something else, i.e. acceptance, available to go in their place. The ultimate will be when we have honestly faced what is within us, we have nothing to fear – in ourselves, or the world. If we know what is there, it is no longer a threat. The healthiest way of being ill is to come to terms with the truth.
Perhaps for me the definition of healing in this way has to be,
knowing what is there, but not letting it be a crippling factor in experiences, relationships, and situations that I encounter. Knowing there will be no getting rid of the fact, but incorporating that into what I am. Whether I like it or not, it is part of me. If I can live with it, rather than against it, and it becomes part of the offering that is me. Acceptance brings being able to face and handle my experience, to speak of it and touch it – to myself, others and God.
Knowing our own wounds, we are able to identify with the world’s pain and stand alongside those who suffer without focusing so hard on how it affects us. The wound will still be there, and scar tissue is more sensitive than other skin, but knowledge and acceptance of that show that we have incorporated the truth into our very being. That is no longer a controlling factor, but part of what makes us what we are. The fact that it is there makes us no better or worse that a supposed “healthy” person.
Simon Bailey writes of living with the knowledge that he was HIV positive as a “brick wall” for the first years, then coming to the point of realising he had to talk to himself – to “step into the wilderness”. The brick wall is about refusing to accept the affliction, denying it’s presence and repercussions – an inevitable part of the process of assimilating the information. Moving into the wilderness of despair can seem like a backward step, but it is the beginning of acceptance, as we do at last allow ourselves to feel something about what is happening to us. Going into the desert forces us to probe the basic foundations of our lives, to face what we are and to reflect on the deep questions. (Simon Bailey would define those as: Who are you really?; What do you really want?; Where really are you going?; What really are you afraid of? ) As we discover what is there we can grow as we incorporate the feelings and effects of our illness into them. In accepting pain and suffering we are not taking on a resigned passivity, but finding the courage to face the facts. The pain can then be spoken aloud, which begins to give it meaning.
In terms of healing beginning where brokenness remains, recovery begins as we are able to slowly turn outwards to face the world again. To find a level of ease so that ‘I’ am not my soul consideration, but finding a level of comfort with what is, acknowledging my identity as this person who cannot do something. When we can face the truth it no longer lurks in the background, with the potentiality to control or destroy. It is taken on board, if not welcome, at least in full knowledge that it is there, and that being OK. For healing to begin, pain has to be faced. If it is ignored, it will trip us up at some time. If we try to keep pain buried, it can fester and cause all kinds of other problems.
Frank Wright states that
as we draw to God, we are drawn together as a person made whole.
This is true, but only when we let him in to those broken, hurting parts. God can do nothing, or at least what he does has no effect, until the one who is hurting allows him. God does not force his way into lives.
Equally, yes Christ shares in the pain with us, but will not always magic it away. The road to acceptance may not be easy. There may be much kicking and screaming along the way, and the place of kicking and screaming may be returned to. Yet ultimately suffering will be a forward movement. As Wright says
Healing liberates us to set out again on the adventure of life – and enables us to be available for the healing of others.
We will know what we really stand on – tested in the fire. We will be more grounded people, less glib, more aware of our fragility. Some awareness of the wound must continue, but not it’s hold over us.
So healing is about, not necessarily getting rid of, but learning to live with all that we are – and are not.
I mentioned God not forcing himself into our lives, but being ready and waiting. This is perhaps our model for care of those who are hurting. We need to be alongside them, but cannot force our way in to a place where they are not, or cannot yet let us in to. We cannot try to push people to move faster than they want or are able.
And this I will look at in the third part tomorrow.